Tactic Talk – Upton Park looks an even bleaker place without The Hammers’ star man

West Ham United’s troubles deepened with a 3-0 away defeat to champions, Chelsea. While the post-match column inches were dominated by Fernando Torres’ first goal for his new club, the absence of a former Blue made a significant difference.

A season of poor form and subsequent bad results sees West Ham bottom of the Premier League with four matches left to play. While the fans will be well aware that their side are still only two points from safety, they will be relying on the return of this season’s stand-out performer at The Boleyn ground. Chelsea supporters breathed a collective sigh of relief as former Blues midfielder Scott Parker was ruled out of the London derby with an Achilles problem; despite his side’s struggles, the defensive midfielder’s five goals are a Premier League personal best for the Football Writers’ Player of the Year (and PFA Player of the Year nominee) who watched his side beaten by his former employers.

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While the scoreline may have been flattering given West Ham’s chances, the three conceded may well have been avoidable with the influence of Parker. For the first, Ashley Cole was expertly released down the left flank by Didier Drogba, with the left-back’s low cross converted by the typically late-arriving Frank Lampard. While Lampard’s strike was a further sign of a return to form for the England international, Avram Grant will undoubtedly be angry at watching his former vice-captain ghost through midfield into an advanced role without being tracked by a central anchor in claret and blue.

Although the second goal will undoubtedly be remembered for the aforementioned Torres’ maiden Blues strike, Manuel da Costa was easily drawn from his central-defensive position to challenge Nicolas Anelka in front of the Hammers back four, allowing Torres to surge through the gap, with the water hazard of the Stamford Bridge pitch only delaying the Spaniard’s finish.

As the match drew to a close, the hosts sought a final push; as Torres drove forward, his attempted pass infield to Anelka was misread by his strike partner. The loose ball seemingly invited a clearance on the edge of the West Ham penalty area, but Chelsea were not to be denied as Florent Malouda reacted first to slam home his side’s third goal, continuing his late-season surge.

As West Ham find themselves 20th in the Premier League – with just 360 minutes to save their top-flight status – they are by no means adrift of the rest of the dogfight. However, as The Hammers plot their great escape, they will no doubt construct their plans based upon the inclusion of their star man as their opportunities for survival become increasingly rare. While their most recent defeat was to a strong Chelsea side chasing their own last-ditch ambitions, in Parker, West Ham have a player capable of standing up to such challenges. As the league season leads to a dramatic conclusion at both ends, Hammers fans will struggle to picture Premier League survival without the intervention of Scott Parker.

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